11 11 2009

Those of us who read University Diaries regularly know that UD hates PowerPoint. I’m of the “PowerPoint is a good tool that can be terribly misused school,” but no matter where you fall on this issue I still think she’s missed something important from this post she’s dug up:

His lectures are all Powerpoint presentations. He didn’t write the presentations. He downloaded them from the same place I did, the textbook publisher’s website. No new material that is not in the book or on the Powerpoints is introduced.

[Emphasis added]

This student isn’t complaining about the PowerPoint. They’re complaining about the fact that the professor doesn’t know the material. This is more clear in a later comment she unearths:

…[M]any textbooks now come with ready-made PowerPoint lectures for each chapter. The problem is that when the professor does not make the presentation, they run the risk of sounding like they don’t know what they’re talking about.

UD correctly concludes that these teachers aren’t teaching at all, but presumably that problem could be fixed if these professors at least wrote their own PowerPoints. What we have here then is a different problem.

In order to differentiate and therefore sell more of their overpriced survey textbooks, giant publishers now provide professors reading quizzes, PowerPoints, online grading platforms, lecture notes…even entire lectures. I’ve grabbed pictures and especially maps from these handouts because they’re the best and most convenient visuals available, but I always tell the publishers reps who visit me that there are some things I just have to do myself.

I always imagined that these are the crutches that help frenzied contingent faculty survive being drastically overworked and underpaid, but maybe it’s more mainstream than I imagined. Yet would professors like the ones described above be teaching on autopilot if the publishers didn’t make it so easy to do so? I’d argue that they couldn’t, because nobody else would do their work for them.

Don’t get me wrong: I agree that reading PowerPoints you didn’t write and calling it teaching is fraud. Even if the publishers are pushers, it’s still the faculty who are knowingly and willingly committing the crime. Nevertheless, it will be a lot easier to clean up the streets if we clear out the pushers first. We can’t lock them up (capitalism being what it is), but perhaps we could all shun the worst offenders?



One response

16 11 2009
Faculty Blog Round-Up: PowerPoint

[…] Jonathan Rees, professor of history, puts the blame for bad presentations on textbook publishers. […]

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